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An unexpected Easter feast

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Supper at Emmaus © The National Gallery, London. Presented by the Hon. George Vernon, 1839

WHAT happens when a biblical text is brought into conversation with a painting? Consider, for example, the Italian artist Caravaggio’s 1601 The Supper at Emmaus (1571 – 1610). Carvaggio’s famous painting of The Supper at Emmaus (1601, London National Gallery) is probably the best known visual interpretation of this New Testament story, unique to the gospel of Luke (24: 13-35).

Caravaggio artistically captures the moment of the disciples, recognition of Christ at Emmaus. It merits careful scrutiny. The man on the left with a tattered, torn green jacket on the elbow, revealing a white shirt beneath, clenches the arm of his chair. It is as if he is about to jump up out of his rib-cage shaped seat. His posture speaks of surprise. The viewer is only shown his profile, but the light off the table or perhaps the risen Christ illuminates the visible side of his bearded face. Across the table on the right it is possible to make out more of the face of the other seated bearded figure. This man has a white shell attached to his jacket, commonly interpreted as the symbol of a pilgrim. His outstretched arms express shock and are reminiscent of the posture of crucifixion. It is the figure in the centre, however, no beard and feminine looking, that dominates the image. The light illuminates his face and part of his hands as well as his red and white robes: symbolic colours, perhaps signifying resurrection.

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Life and Work
April 2017

Other Articles in this Issue

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Tim Porter highlights a key project which will improve access to the site of Jesus’ baptism
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In the summer of 1558 John Knox published what is
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